US Army Chaplain Reprimanded for Sharing Faith

ICC Note: An Army chaplain stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia, has been publicly reprimanded for sharing his personal testimony of faith with fellow soldiers during a suicide prevention class. In a letter from a commander, chaplain Joseph Lawhorn was told to avoid endorsing any one faith over another. However, as an attorney for the Liberty Institute has pointed out, “Not only is it lawful for a chaplain to talk about matters of faith and spirituality and religion in a suicide prevention training class – but the Army policy encourages discussion of matters of faith and spiritual wellness.”

12/09/2014 United States (Fox News) – An Army chaplain was punished for discussing matters of faith and quoting from the Bible during a suicide prevention training session with the 5th Ranger Training Battalion — leading to outrage from religious liberty groups and a Georgia congressman.

Chaplain Joseph Lawhorn was issued a Letter of Concern that accused him of advocating for Christianity and “using Christian scripture and solutions” during a Nov. 20th training session held at the University of North Georgia.

“You provided a two-sided handout that listed Army resources on one side and a biblical approach to handling depression on the other side,” Col. David Fivecoat, the commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Ft. Benning, Georgia, wrote in the letter to the chaplain. “This made it impossible for those in attendance to receive the resource information without also receiving the biblical information.”

The Christian chaplain was warned to be “careful to avoid any perception you are advocating one system of beliefs over another.”

The Christian chaplain was warned to be “careful to avoid any perception you are advocating one system of beliefs over another.”

However, attorneys for the chaplain, along with religious advocacy groups, say his comments are covered by the “right of conscience clause” that was passed in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, section 533.

Chaplain Lawhorn was ordered to appear in the colonel’s office on Thanksgiving Day where he was personally handed the Letter of Concern.

Based on Col. Fivecoat’s version of events — you would’ve thought Chaplain Lawhorn had turned the suicide prevention workshop into a Billy Graham Crusade. However, that’s not what happened.

During the course of conducting the training session, Ron Crews, the endorsing agent for military chaplains for Grace Churches International, explained, the chaplain discussed his own struggles with depression and the methods and techniques he personally used to combat depression. He said the chaplain did provide a handout with religious resources — but he also provided a handout with non-religious resources.

“The chaplain did nothing wrong,” said Crews. “At no time did he say his was the only or even the preferred way of dealing with depression. And at no time did he deny the validity of any other method.”

Lawhorn is one of the few Army chaplains to wear the Ranger Tab and Crews said it was through that identification that he shared his story about depression.

“His story involves his faith journey,” Crews said. “He was simply being a great Army chaplain – in ministering to his troops and providing first hand how he has dealt with depression in the past. That’s what chaplains do. They bare their souls for their soldiers in order to help them with crises they may be going through.”

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